In hindsight, The Clash probably shouldn’t have agreed to tour Asia and Australia in early 1982. Beyond the fact that it came midway through the tense Combat Rock sessions, promoters put together an insane schedule of 25 shows in a little over a month. And after five straight years on the road, the band was simply burnt out and showing major signs of strain. Drummer Topper Headon was in particularly awful shape as his heroin addiction was growing completely out of control.
“In the jazz days the saxophonist would be addicted to heroin, like Charlie Parker,” said Joe Strummer. “The nature of the instrument means it’s much better to be floating over the music, doing your thing, but it doesn’t suit drumming, which is like nailing a nail into the floor. It’s a precise thing. The beats have to be there and when Topper got addicted, he couldn’t play anymore. It doesn’t work with drums.”
Somehow or another, the group managed to get through the tour. In the video above, they are in Tokyo in late January playing “Jimmy Jazz,” “Tommy Gun,” “Police on My Back,” “White Riot” and Wanda Jackson’s “Fujiyama Mama” with Paul Simonon’s wife Pearl Gates on lead vocals. “It was pretty crazy when we arrived in Japan,” said Mick Jones. “We were chased around like we were in the Beatles or something, with lots of screaming and people throwing presents.”
Not long after they arrived, Strummer and Headon got into a terrible fight. “I was standing in a lift with Joe,” the drummer recalled. “He’s saying, ‘How can I sing all these anti-drug songs with you stoned out of your head behind me?'” It was a question that Headon couldn’t adequately answer, and not long after the band came home from the tour he was sacked and replaced by original Clash drummer Terry Chimes.
Ironically, it was Headon’s composition “Rock the Casbah,” one of the only Clash songs he ever wrote (with Strummer handling the lyrics), that gave the group the biggest hit of its career. By the time the single hit the airwaves he was already out of the band. Years later, Strummer said that Headon’s departure doomed the band. “That was the beginning of the end, really,” he claimed. “Whatever a group is, it’s the chemical mixture of those four people that makes a group work. You can’t take one away and replace him with whoever you like, or 10 men: it’s never going to work.”